Overview


Jim Bowie, the descendant of Highland Scots, grew up riding alligators and working the field on the Texas frontier. Taught three languages and a sense of honor, he went on to live a life filled with brawls and battles, loves and loses. This is his story, as told by those who, whether they loved or hated him, were united by their awe of this...
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Bowie: A Novel

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Overview


Jim Bowie, the descendant of Highland Scots, grew up riding alligators and working the field on the Texas frontier. Taught three languages and a sense of honor, he went on to live a life filled with brawls and battles, loves and loses. This is his story, as told by those who, whether they loved or hated him, were united by their awe of this amazing frontiersman.

At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.


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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The softspoken Southern aristocrat best known for king-sized cutlery and his glorious death at the Alamo, Jim Bowie remains a historical enigma surrounded by myth, half-truth and revisionist tinkering. This collaboration (Eickhoff most recently wrote a dark western, The Fourth Horseman, about Doc Holliday) continues the murky Bowie legend in a cacophony of more than 35 narrators who tell of Bowie's life (1796-1836), some recalling different details of the same events as seen from different perspectives and distanced by time. A loyal friend and deadly enemy, Bowie had a checkered career as a partner of slave trader and pirate Jean Lafitte (and was himself involved in suspicious land speculation with alleged forged land titles). Never one to run from a fight or ignore an insult, Bowie killed dozens of men in duels and brawls with Indians, assassins, robbers, bullies and card cheats. Although plagued by scandals and not always popular after a killing, Bowie was a natural leader, a trait that led him to Texas and the Alamo. While one wishes they had made do with fewer narrators, the authors cleverly show both sides of Jim Bowie, the hero and the villain, certainly no common man and no saint, but a true Western legend. (Oct.)
School Library Journal
YA-Known as an adventurer, entrepreneur, land speculator, slave runner, drinker, alligator rider, associate of the pirate Lafitte, gambler, and brawler, James Bowie remains best known when associated with the infamous knife bearing his surname. From his early teenage years to his death at the Alamo, he found ways to keep himself in the thick of things. Bowie's life story is revealed through interviews that offer a variety of perspectives by several "witnesses" to the events. Even though the stories sound true to life, readers need to remember that the book contains fictionalized history. Interviewees recite specifics about landscapes, weather, food, housing, and clothing, as well as day-to-day rituals, enhancing the story and giving a fuller account of frontier life in the early 1800s. It is an eclectic population, with many tribes of Southwestern and South Central Native Americans as well as Africans, French, Spanish, Mexicans, British, Scottish, and those who consider themselves citizens of the United States. The mixture makes for rich memories sometimes spoken in dialects with non-English words naturally becoming part of the interviews. The action-packed story ends with Bowie's death at the Alamo, a dramatic event spectacular enough for a man whose true life can no longer be separated from the legend he has become. Teens looking for stories about adventure, the untamed frontier, or an exciting retelling of Bowie's life can start here.-Pam Johnson, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Kirkus Reviews
Masterful, realistic retelling of the Jim Bowie legend by Texans Eickhoff and Lewis. In his present effort with Lewis, Eickhoff (who retold the Cuchulainn legend in last year's The Raid) rebuilds the Bowie story in a brilliantly conceived series of interviews that captures the tone of frontier speech with what seems dead-on accuracy. Of Scottish ancestors who rode with Rob Roy, Big Jim Bowie (1790-1836) lent himself to dime-novel fabulization as an archetypal frontier hero only somewhat less fabulous than the Northwest's Paul Bunyan. Bowie's adventures include riding alligators in the swamps, hunting wild cattle with a knife, duels, Indian fights, lost treasure, and the designing of the Bowie knife (steel like a mirror, bronze the color of lightning). Before his death at the Alamo, he fulfilled one of his late wife's last requests, that he free his slaves. Thus the opening interview is with 98-year-old Black Sam, who tells of his 20 years with Bowie. This is done in black English as rich as Nigger Jim's and even more phonetically precise. The voice of Bowie's mother, Elve Ap-Catesby Jones Bowie, is captured with equal resourcefulness as she says of her son's death, "I'll wager no wounds were found in his back." Other interviewees are his brother, John Jones Bowie, the Shakespearean actor Edwin Forrest, Sam Houston, and Caiaphas K. Ham, who fought with Bowie during the Texas War for Independence and stuck by him during his darkest depression and slide into alcoholism following the deaths of his wife and children. Going by one report, Bowie, sick and unable to rise, was slain in his bed, though a second report adds that he slew two Mexicans with his pistols and more with his knife beforebeing killed. Grand and compelling.
From the Publisher

"A stunning novel about Jim Bowie."--Amarillo Globe-News

"An interesting blend of fact, lore, and legend combined t piant a verbal picture of Bowie as he might have been."--Ocala Star Banner

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312870973
  • Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
  • Publication date: 9/15/1998
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 419,519
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author


Randy Lee Eickhoff holds several graduate degrees, including a Ph.D. in Classics. He lives in El Paso, Texas where he works on translations in several languages, poetry, plays, and novels of which two have been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. His translation of Ireland's national epic is now a text in not only schools in the United States, but countries overseas as well. His nonfiction work on the Tigua Indians, Exiled, won the Southwest History Award. He has been inducted into the Paso Del Norte Writers Hall of Fame, the local chapter of the Texas Institute of Arts and Letters. He spends his time in El Paso, Ireland, and Italy, lecturing on Dante and The Ulster Cycle.

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Read an Excerpt


A. J. SOWELL
According to the fashion of the day, I am obligated to take pen in hand and explain why I decided to write this book. The answer is quite simple: We need heroes more than ever now and I don’t believe we can spare Jim Bowie. Of course, the heroes we need now are not the heroes that the dime novels and some of those “yellow journalists” are trying to cram down everyone’s throats. No sir. We don’t need those robber barons and such who think that making a pile of money makes them worthy of admiration. Money is nice, I don’t begrudge a person for wanting it, but there are other things more important—especially for our young people today who don’t seem to have those models to measure up to like I had when I was a youngster. Of course, I’m quick to admit that most of those heroes were real people and we knew their faults as well as we knew their qualities, and in the measuring we did, the latter greatly outweighed the former.
Strange, now that I am an old man, I am more aware of the value of having heroes than I did when I was growing up. I suppose that is a license of age. Too bad that it is wasted upon the old and not lavished any more upon the young. All too often, nowadays, I see people hustling and bustling their way through life without paying the slightest bit of attention to their children. They do not tell the stories that are necessary for children to hear, they do not read to their children anymore, and because of this, we are losing a vital part of our history as well. We can’t afford to do that. We can’t afford to lose men like Jim Bowie.
My family knew Jim Bowie since around 1829. But that’s not so unusual. I reckon every person who lived in Texas prior to his death at the Alamo in 1836 knew Jim Bowie if not personally, then by sight, since people were prone to point out Bowie as he walked along the streets. But in our case, well, our family roots, like all family roots on the frontier, are very important, and the Sowells, like the Bowies, came from Highlander stock and Highlanders have a habit of sticking together. Bowie spent many a night discussing politics and Texas with my grandfather, my father, and my uncles.
I wasn’t privy to this since I wasn’t born until twelve years after Bowie’s death, but I sure heard the details of some of his adventures from my kin who got it straight from the quiet man’s mouth. They all delighted in filling my head with those wonderful stories. And stories were very important to a young man growing up on the edge of the frontier. He needed heroes to help him decide which road he was going to take when he became a man, and manhood came early in those days out of necessity, what with Indian problems and the renegades and outlaws thick as fleas before the Rangers took to combing them out of the Thicket and Hills District. Fact is, it seems like there was more opportunity for a young one to go wrong than to remain right those days. So heroes were important. Very important.
To know a man one must know something of his roots. James Bowie was a limb of a fine family tree. His ancestors on his father’s side were Scots, Highlanders. The name “Bowie” might even be from an ancient Scottish word, buieclaiomh, which could be translated as “the big man who carries the claymore,” a claymore being a huge, two-handed broadsword. Though sometimes the clans cut down the sword or put a new hilt to it, the originals had a blade as long as six feet. The sword was traditionally carried by the clan’s biggest warrior and used against men in armor. If the man was big enough and the claymore strong enough, it could cut the armored man in half.
The Bowies were Scottish nobles and on familiar grounds with heroes like William Wallace and Rob Roy. In fact, Bowie was fond of saying that his family could trace its roots back to both Rob Roy and his wife, Helen McGregor. In fact, there seems to have been a strange parallel between James Bowie and Rob Roy, but to see that, it is necessary to explain a little about Rob Roy since heroes seem to be of little interest anymore among those who have become infatuated with the antics of villains.
Rob Roy was a bit of a rogue, but there was goodness in him: depending upon which side of the Jacobite rebellion one supported and whether he was transporting your cattle to safety or simply to his own herds.
Sir Walter Scott wrote about him and the Highlanders still tell folk stories about Rob Roy McGregor Campbell. Those stories seem to be all that are left of the man and history has built him into a legend, but James Bowie’s ancestor, John Bowie, knew the man, fought with him, and was, for a time, outlawed with him.
One day, John Bowie said to Rob Roy, “Rob, we’ll do no good fighting the English. They don’t know the old ways, nor follow the Highland code. We’ll lose if we stay.”
“Aye, you’re right, John Bowie, but I’ll do my best to rule my land,” Rob Roy replied. “But you leave with the seal of your family, and I’ll wager you’ll keep the Highland honor alive.”
Though some uncharitable souls did speak of the certain death of a dissolute rogue who had betrayed a clansman, the fact is John Bowie moved to Northern Ireland. An uncle named John Smith asked him to move to the New World, and in 1705 or ’06, Bowie immigrated to Maryland.
John Bowie had a son, John Junior, who in turn had three sons. James Bowie, who was the grandfather of the subject of this book, was one. This James Bowie lived in Edgefield, South Carolina, and married a woman named Mirabeau. Though he died young, James and his wife had five children. One of these was named Rezin Pleasants. Rezin had a twin brother named Resa. I suppose it’s hard for those not raised on the frontier to realize the hardships incurred by those who have lost a father. The male children are forced to become men even faster than usual. Backbreaking, mind-dulling labor combined with sudden Indian attacks does that.
Rezin Bowie was a “man” when he joined Col. Francis Marion—the “Swamp Fox”—during the Revolutionary War. He was only fifteen at the time and seventeen when he was injured and captured by the British.
In the 1700s, Dismal Swamp covered much of South Carolina. Oh, the people were making progress in taming the land and establishing plantations, but the Cherokees often raided the towns and plantations, and the border was slow in advancing. A maternal great uncle of mine, John Carpenter, also one of Marion’s men, said that the swamps were the most dangerous spot on earth. Besides pools of mud and quicksand that could trap an unwary person, the swamps were mosquito-infested and filled with poisonous snakes, alligators, and wild boar. A man could easily get lost in those swamps and if he did, he died.
My mother’s family knew both John and Rezin Bowie. In fact, he sponsored them when they enlisted with Marion. For two years, they lived in or around Dismal Swamp. They fought many battles, but the one that was Rezin’s downfall was Marion’s attempt to take Savannah in 1779.
The Southern colonies were less inviting to the British than the North, so the British did not concentrate efforts at capturing the South until around 1778, when they moved into Savannah and effectively conquered Georgia with its capture in December of that year.
In September 1779, Maj. Gen. Benjamin Lincoln led members of the Continental Army against the British forces. They could not take Savannah, so Lincoln lay siege to the city, trying to starve the defenders out. But the British general, Augustin Prevost, refused to surrender, waiting for the arrival of British troops led by Lt. Col. John Maitland. Meanwhile, Marion brought his forces to link up with Lincoln’s soldiers. For some reason, Lincoln did not attack the city until Maitland’s arrival. Then, he planned a three-pronged attack against the city. First, he feinted at the enemy’s left, then led a strong attack at the British rear, through Sailor’s Gate, and at Spring Hill Redoubt.
His plans might have worked, but Sgt. Maj. James Curry of the Charleston Grenadiers deserted Lincoln’s forces and took news of the plan to Prevost. The British were waiting for the attack. Marion, my uncle, and Rezin all attacked the Redoubt on October 9, 1779. The fight lasted for hours. The British laid down a hellish fire from cannon and muskets, but Marion led his men straight to the parapet and raised the flag. Two officers were instantly killed and a Sergeant Jasper tried to save the flag, but he was killed.
Maitland counterattacked and the hand-to-hand battle lasted for well over an hour. Rezin fought well for only being a boy of seventeen. He used an old saber he had rescued from a junk pile after it was broken by a musket ball during a skirmish with Tarleton’s men. He reground the point and with its basket-hilt it became his favorite weapon.
At the Redoubt, Rezin killed three soldiers when suddenly he sensed someone behind him. He whirled and found an officer swinging a saber at him. He had no time to block the blow. He caught the blade with his left hand. The sword nearly severed it. He swung his short sword into the officer’s belly, then dropped to his knees, tearing off a hunk of his homespun shirt and staunching the pouring blood with it.
Meanwhile, the Swamp Fox led his men back, leaving Rezin wounded at the Redoubt. He was taken to a field hospital in Savannah, where he was treated by Elve Ap-Catesby Jones, the daughter of John Jones, a recent Welsh immigrant. Elve was immediately taken with the handsome Rezin, and in 1782 they married. She was a calming influence on Rezin, soothing his fiery temper when it threatened to explode, as it frequently did during those frontier years. They had ten children: twin girls who died in infancy, Sarah, Mary, Martha, John, Rezin Junior, James, Stephen, and David, who drowned in the Mississippi when he was nineteen.
The Bowies moved from Georgia to Tennessee, then Kentucky, Missouri, and finally, in 1802, to Louisiana, where they first took up land on Bushley Bayou near Rapides. At the time, Louisiana was a Spanish possession struggling to make itself civilized. I heard many stories about how Rezin, Elve, and their children fought the renegades who tried to take advantage of them.
One adventure in particular happened when a gang of rogues tried to squat on Bowie’s land. The leader, Garreoux, I think his name was, had three others with him. He was confident that he and his men could handle an old war veteran and his brood of young children, so he camped on the Bowie plantation and began logging the ash, oak, walnut, and maple, floating it downriver to New Orleans to sell.
Rezin took his son John with him when he went to speak with Garreoux, but Garreoux only laughed at him. He insulted Rezin and Rezin’s temper flared. He pulled his pistols and told Garreoux and his men to get off his land. Garreoux’s response was to draw his knife and throw it at Rezin. I suppose he thought he could scare Rezin away, but Rezin was far beyond scaring by then. He shot Garreoux in the chest, handed his gun to John and told him to reload while the other three rushed him. He pulled out his knife and slashed one across the chest and shot another in the leg. John had reloaded by this time and the others decided that discretion was far better than valor—especially since the old man had just put three of theirs out of commission. They took off running.
Now, the parish sheriff was no friend of Rezin’s. He came out to the plantation to arrest him and took Rezin back to the town, where he put him into the wooden jail. Elve knew Rezin had fought in self-defense, so when word leaked back to her that the sheriff—Barnett, I think he was called—was a cousin or something to Garreoux, she decided this nonsense had gone far enough.
She ordered one of the Negroes to saddle three horses while she loaded four Lancaster horse pistols that fired .50 caliber balls. She took the Negro with her and rode into town, where she confronted Barnett and told him to let Rezin out of jail. When Barnett tried to laugh at her, she handed two pistols through the bars to Rezin and pointed the other two at Barnett. Now, that may not sound like much, but those .50 caliber bores look as big as cannon when you’re looking down the business end. The sheriff promptly opened the door and let Rezin out.
They worked the land along the bayou for quite a few years, always trading for better land when it came up for sale. When word came back about Texas land, Rezin began to talk about moving the family there, but he died in 1819 without ever seeing it.
I’m an old man, now, and I can see how those stories might have been embellished, but somehow, that doesn’t seem to be such a bad thing. Good should be stronger than Evil. I can remember Grandpa telling me the story about how the first Bowie knife was made. I could only have been about five years old at the time.
We lived in a one-room cabin, but it was snug and warm as my family took pains to show craftsmanship in all they did. The fireplace was made with cut stone all carefully placed so as to have no chinks to let smoke back into the cabin. My father and uncles were already discussing the extra rooms that would be added come spring, but right then, at night, in the dead of winter, the atmosphere beside the fire was perfect for a story of high adventure.
Grandpa spoke like a Tennessee hill man. He never did lose that even though the rest of us had developed a Texas drawl, and his voice was always slow, the words evenly spaced, so you didn’t really notice the depth of his voice or the quiet authority of his words. He was an educated man who still worked with his hands, a rarity on the Texas frontier. When he told his stories, the images just jumped and danced in your head and it didn’t take much in the way of a youthful imagination to draw yourself into the picture, too.
That night of the Bowie knife story, Grandpa rocked in his chair, staring at the fire, while he slowly honed a Bowie knife, eleven inches of mirror-bright steel an inch and a half wide. The rasp of steel against the Arkansas white rock matched the creak of his rocker. His voice startled me.
“You know what this is, boy?”
“A Bowie knife, sir,” I answered.
“You know how it came to be called that?”
“No, sir,” I said anxiously. I settled myself on the floor beside his big feet because I knew a story was forthcoming.
“I had a little shop in the Hill Country. It was pretty wild back then. A forest primeval, hills and trees—darkness caused by shadows. I dug my shop into a cave. It seemed so much more fitting to make iron into steel while tucked within the earth itself. Just as the old craftsmen did at the dawning of the world.”
He handed the knife to me. I took it gingerly, turning it over in my hand, watching the tiny lights from the fire dance off its wicked edge. He pulled his pipe from his vest and took out his little buckskin pouch of Eagle Claw tobacco and began to patiently fill his pipe. He watched me carefully as I handled that knife. When he was comfortable and his pipe drawing well, he began.
“I was working late in my cave-shop. It was much drier there than outside. A big Texas storm was raging. Lightning turned the dark night into day for brief seconds and the sound of thunder was like a mountain falling upon you. Those kind of nights are best spent inside where you can forget the hobgoblins, but I had work that needed finishing.
“I had the forge at its hottest and the cave had taken on a warm, red glow, when a particularly loud blast of thunder startled me. A dark figure stood in the cave’s mouth.” Grandpa’s hand closed into a huge fist and I felt the hairs begin to prickle on the back of my neck.
“ ‘Who be ye?’ I called out. But the figure didn’t answer. Slowly, it raised its hand and removed a rain-sodden hat. It was Jim Bowie himself, a big man, red-haired and fair of face. His words were soft, but when someone made him angry, thunder clapped from him.
“ ‘Mr. Sowell, I need somethin from you. There is not another man I can trust. Only a man whose blood has been replaced with steel. Only a man whose ancestors were the armorers of William Wallace and Rob Roy himself could do me this favor.’
“ ‘What favor, Jim?’ I asked.
“ ‘I need a new knife. War’s coming to Texas, and I need a knife that will cut the heart strings of thousands of enemy soldiers.’
“ ‘Well, can you give me an idea about what you want?’ I asked.
“He reached beneath the serape he wore against the rain and pulled out a knife he had whittled out of loblolly pine. The blade was like this,” Grandpa said, reaching down and taking the knife from my hand. “The blade longer than most, short for a sword, though. Single-edged, but with a weighted back so the power of a slash would be increased.
“ ‘I have business elsewhere and won’t be back this way for a month or so. Could you have it ready by then?’
“He knew the answer before he asked, for a Highland master armsmith always did his best work for the laird who goes to war. Especially when the laird is the greatest knife fighter of the day.
“For a month, I worked steel. Some was too brittle, some became pitted. Knife after knife I threw back into the melting pot, working back, tempering it time and again. I reformed the point to make it look like an old clipper ship and sharpened a bit of the front so that it could be used for ripping. I put on a D guard and an eagle’s head pommel, invoking the old Scottish symbol. It was a miniature saber, but in the hands of a man like Bowie, it was death to the enemies of Texas.”
Granddad stopped and stared right at me. “Finally, on a night just like the night of the request, the proper elements formed.”
He fell silent, rocking and staring into the coals of the fire, seeing the coals of his forge in his memory. I stayed quiet, letting him remember, knowing that he would tell me when he was ready.
“Maybe, it came from the fires of Hell. I don’t know if Heaven or Hell was in that knife. There wasn’t another like it. Steel like a mirror, bronze the color of lightning, an ebony handle bright and checkered so it wouldn’t slip in the hand, with a cross guard and the pommel like a Highland eagle.
“Jim entered as I finished edging it. He took it and looked at it closely, turning it in his huge hands. I watched him anxiously because I had made a few changes from the model he had given me and I didn’t know how he would take to them. Then he looked at me and said, ‘It’s the finest knife ever made. What do you call it?’
“ ‘I’ll call it the Bowie knife, if that’ll suit ye,’ I replied.
“It suited him just fine and all the other knives that came after that are still called by the same name I gave to him that night in my cave.”
Today, Grandpa’s words seem a bit far-fetched, but he modeled his stories after those told by Sir Walter Scott in the books he kept on a shelf above his bed. But I called for all the stories I could get on Jim Bowie and never tired of hearing Grandpa slip into his storytelling voice. When I got older and traveled away from the homeplace, I kept a sharp ear out for other stories about Jim Bowie from oldtimers sitting in bars or around potbellied stoves whittling and chewing while they remembered when. But I always remembered Grandpa’s best.
And what adventures Jim Bowie had! Riding alligators in the swamps, hunting wild cattle with a knife, duels, Indian fights, lost treasure, these fabulous tales became my favorite fare. In the daytime, I reenacted those stories, becoming in my youthful imagination Jim Bowie, while my playmates became the villains that I would dispatch with swings of my whittled Bowie knife.
I needed somebody like Jim Bowie. I needed a demigod who fought because it was the right thing to do. Later, I even joined the Rangers because I felt it was something that Jim Bowie would have done, because the frontier needed men who were willing to protect those who couldn’t protect themselves.
One of the stories that was a particular favorite of mine was the story of the “Grass Fight.” It seems Bowie and Fannin fought an action against a vastly greater force of Mexicans. Bowie yelled out, “Keep under cover, boys, and reserve your fire. We haven’t a man to spare.” I have no reason to doubt this because Uncle Andrew was there and he never tired of telling how Bowie handled the battle. But the real point that needs to be mentioned here is that what he said is still true to this day. We haven’t a man to spare. Certainly not a man like Jim Bowie.
Today, it seems to be popular to point out another’s weaknesses. I don’t know why that is so popular. Everybody has a weakness or two. That doesn’t matter. It’s what a man does with his life that matters. And that’s the reason why I decided to write this book. To set the record straight about Jim Bowie.
One of the first interviews I conducted was with Black Sam, who was a slave of Bowie’s sent out of the Alamo just before its fall with a letter for Sam Houston. Unknown to Black Sam, the packet he carried also had his letters of manumission setting him free. Apparently Bowie knew that he would die in the Alamo and was performing one of his wife’s last requests, to set their slaves free before both died.
Black Sam was ninety-eight years old when I found him in Los Angeles, where he was living with his great-grandson and wife. His memory was sharp, for the most part, but the picture Black Sam could give us of Jim Bowie is incomplete.
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